I recently wrote about making resolutions that last. In that post I touched on how it is important to take things slowly when reaching for a goal. I want to expand on that idea and talk about the power of tiny habits.
What Are Tiny Habits?
Tiny habits are habits that you are trying to introduce into your daily routine. They are called tiny habits because you start off with a very tiny thing before working your way up to your goal. For example, let’s say your goal is to lose 20 pounds. In order to reach this goal, you are going to have to become more active. In this case, any activity is good.
We now have our goal (lose 20 pounds) and we have a new habit that we want to become routine for us (being more active). Our next step is to break down the habit of being more active into tiny habits so that we increase the likelihood of achieving the goal.
There are numerous ways we could introduce tiny habits into our everyday life:
- We could park father away at the train station, in the parking lot at work or when running errands
- We could do 5 pushups after every time we go to the restroom
- We could do pushups or wall squats after every time the phone rings
- We could march in place or do jumping jacks after getting out of bed in the morning
There are endless tiny habits we can introduce into our lives. The key is that they be tiny habits. One way you know if the habit is tiny enough is to see how long it takes you to perform. To qualify as tiny, it needs to last 30 seconds or less. Once the tiny habit turns into a habit for you, it can last longer. But for starters, aim for 30 seconds or less.
Anchoring Your Tiny Habits
The second key to turning your tiny habits into a big habit is anchoring them to current routines. We all have routines in life and connecting a new tiny habit to these routines will greatly improve the chances of the tiny habits sticking.
Take the example above of doing jumping jacks in the morning. Tie the alarm going off in the morning to doing jumping jacks. When you hear the alarm, you know it’s time to get out of bed and get ready for work. What is the first thing you do once you get out of bed?
For many, you jump in the shower. Do you think about jumping in the shower? Do you have to plan to shower? No, you just do it because it is a habit. We want to make jumping jacks a habit as well. We want to do them without thinking.
So when you hear the alarm clock go off, get out of bed and do jumping jacks. But here is the important key: take it slow. So slow in fact, that you think it is pointless. Start off with 2 jumping jacks. This qualifies as a tiny habit because it lasts less than 30 seconds.
I know what you are thinking. You won’t get any benefit from doing just two. That is the point. You want to start off so small that you don’t even notice the effort. As time goes by, you can slowly increase the number of jumping jacks you complete.
Before you know it, you will hear the alarm, turn it off, get out of bed and do 100 jumping jacks without even thinking. What you did was take a tiny habit, 2 jumping jacks, and turned it into a new daily routine.
The final part of the tiny habit process is to reward yourself for doing the tiny habit. So when you complete your two jumping jacks, give yourself a high five. Or look in the mirror and tell yourself “great job”.
By reinforcing the tiny habit with words of encouragement, we help make the habit stick. We feel good about doing the tiny habit and begin the process of rewiring our brains to get excited to do jumping jacks in the morning.
My Life As An Example
I am fairly healthy. I go to the gym 3 times per week but I work a desk job, meaning I am sitting for much of the day. I’ve read many stories about it not mattering how often you work out if you are sitting all day. Simply put, sitting all day is not good for you. So, I went out and bought an activity monitor.
My daily walking goal was 10,000 steps, which I thought I would easily do. It turns out I sit a lot more than I thought! I failed 5 out of 7 days that first week.
I dialed back my goal and created tiny habits. I set the monitor to vibrate if I hadn’t walked in the past 45 minutes. When I felt that vibration, I got up and walked around my desk. As time passed, I made my walk a little longer. Now when I feel the vibration, I do 5 minutes of walking.
In the months since, I’ve introduced other tiny habits that have become routine for me. I now walk around the house during commercial breaks when watching television. I walk to the gym. I park farther away from stores when I run errands. I take the stairs instead of the escalator.
All of these tiny habits were taken on a one-by-one basis and kept small until they became routine for me. Now I hit my goal with ease. In fact, I increased my goal because 10,000 steps a day was too easy for me.
Making Tiny Habits Work For You
So here is your blueprint for using the power of tiny habits to help you reach your goals.
First, outline what your goal is. Make sure your goal is specific. I can’t tell you enough how important this is. Your goal cannot be to lose weight or retire one day. You need to get specific. How much weight do you want to lose? What age do you want to retire? How much money will you need saved for retirement? What does retirement look like to you?
The more specific you are, the more tangible and attainable the goal will be.
Once you have your goal outlined, start thinking of tiny things you can do to help you reach your goal. Remember, the idea here is to make the habit so small you can do it without thinking.
If your goal is to lose weight, start out by doing wall squats for 10 seconds in the morning while you wait for the shower to get hot. Another option is to drink a glass of water with lunch instead of a sugary drink.
And finally, once you outline your goal and you do your tiny habit, reward yourself with words of encouragement. You don’t need to throw a huge party. Just look in the mirror, smile and congratulate yourself.
Creating habits is a lot harder than most of us want to admit. We are creatures of habit and like our routines. This is why it is so hard for you to lose weight or save money for retirement. This is where tiny habits come into play.
By doing something small and seemingly insignificant, we can create a habit without realizing what we are doing. By the time we catch one, the tiny habit is now a daily routine.
If you want to change your life, use the power of tiny habits to your advantage. You will be amazed at how something so tiny can have such a dramatic impact on your life.
If you would like more resources to help you along your journey, check out my recommended resources section for ideas.
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